Lawyers for the city of Hazleton and those who in 2006 sued the city over its illegal immigration ordinances will return to the courtroom today to again argue the merits of the case before an appeals court.
Lawyers will make their oral arguments before a panel of Third Circuit judges consisting of Chief Judge Theodore A. McKee, Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie and Senior Judge Richard L. Nygaard at the federal courthouse in Philadelphia.
Legal action against the city began in July 2006 when the American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Hazleton residents and business owners, filed a lawsuit with other organizations seeking to have two city laws struck down.
After a weeklong trial in March 2007, U.S. District Court Judge James Munley found that the city‚??s Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) and related tenant registration ordinance, championed by then city Mayor Lou Barletta and adopted by council, were unconstitutional.
The IIRA would punish employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants and landlords who knowingly rented to them. The registration ordinance would require tenants to obtain an occupancy permit from the city; it would require potential tenants to show documents proving citizenship or immigration status.
The city appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which, in September 2010, upheld Munley‚??s decision. Three months later, the city appealed the Third Circuit‚??s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Since then, some federal court decisions on illegal immigration issues that have come down in other parts of the country could work in Hazleton‚??s favor in seeking a reversal in the case. Those decisions led to today‚??s oral arguments before a panel of three Third Circuit judges:
‚?Ę In May 2011, the Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law, which is similar to the employment provision in the city‚??s IIRA.
Less than two weeks later, the Supreme Court vacated the Third Circuit‚??s decision in the Hazleton case and directed the Third Circuit to revisit the city‚??s IIRA. Later that year, the Third Circuit set up a schedule for the city and the plaintiffs in the case to file briefs on the Arizona‚??s case relevance to Hazleton‚??s case.
In April, the Third Circuit scheduled oral arguments in the Hazleton case for July 27. The date was later rescheduled to today.
‚?Ę On July 31, the Fifth Circuit granted a petition to rehear en banc a case involving Farmers Branch, Texas. That city had passed a law similar to Hazleton‚??s requirement for tenant registration conditioned upon the occupant‚??s citizenship or legal immigration status.
U.S. District Court had struck down that law and the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision, but the Fifth Circuit‚??s decision to rehear the case en banc vacated the previous decision. And the plaintiffs in the Hazleton case based several arguments on the courts‚?? findings that the Farmers Branch law wrongfully preempted federal immigration law.
Kris Kobach, the city‚??s attorney, believes rulings on the Texas and Arizona laws could lead the Third Circuit to come to new conclusions when reconsidering Hazleton‚??s ordinances.
Kobach, who is also the secretary of state in Kansas, will face off against Omar Jadwat, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU‚??s Immigrants‚?? Rights Project.
What: Oral arguments in Pedro Lozano et al versus the City of Hazleton
When: 10 a.m. today
Where: The Collins J. Seitz Courtroom, 19th floor of the U.S. Courthouse, 6th and Market streets, Philadelphia